Yoga defines yama and niyama as the positive and negative aspects of behaviour respectively. Traditional texts mention ten yamas and ten niyamas but Patanjalis Yogasutra, which is considered the original treatise on yoga, defines five yamas and five niyamas. It has been mentioned that in Manusmirti that it is more important to follow yamas than niyamas. Here we give a brief description on the yamas and niyamas to be followed:
Ahimsa (Non-violence): this is one of foremost yamas. It means the lack of intention to hurt others. This intention need not be just physical but includes mental and emotional cruelty. Here the attitude is more important than the actual act of killing. You should not even have the intention of offending others.
Satya (Truthfulness): this quality implies the honesty and sincerity in thoughts, words and deeds. This is possible only when one has conquered greed and ambition since these are the two major culprits which take you away from the truth.
Asteya (Non-theft): in Sanskrit, steya denotes the enjoyment or keeping with oneself the things that do not rightfully belong to them. This is basically the act of stealing or theft. A person is inclined to steal only when he has no love and has some selfish motive. A yogi or a student of yoga has very few basic needs. He has learnt the art of loving himself as well as the others. Hence he does not feel the need to exploit or steal from others.
Brahmacharya (Celibacy): sex has been defined as on of the vital necessities of human existence. It ranks next only to food. Since ancient times, very few people have been able to master their sexual urges. If not satisfied, these urges lead a person to depravation and develop psychotic tendencies. Yoga lays a great stress on the celibacy. It considers not only the act of sex itself as sexual but even thinking, talking and looking at opposite sex as a part of sex and hence has to be avoided. Patanjali has declared that brahmacharya increases the mental strength also called veerya in an individual.
Aparigraha (Non-gathering): this yama means not going on collecting wealth and objects just for enjoyment. Yoga teaches one to collect wealth and objects just to meet his primary needs. This is important because greed causes distraction and thus leads to increased strain on his mind and body.
The above mentioned points deal with vairagya or the negative aspects of ones behaviour. Now we take a look at some of the niyamas or the positive aspects of the behaviour as described by yoga:
Shoucha (Cleanliness): This includes the cleanliness of the mind and the body. Yoga has described a clean mind as the one free of any prejudices, false beliefs, ignorance and ego. Generally speaking, all the yamas come under this niyama since they deal with eliminating some or the other impurities.
Santosha (Contentment): a yogi is taught to be happy and satisfied with his lot. He does not need to achieve any ambition.
Tapas (Religious austerities) : This niyama describes the rituals like fasting: needed to fortify the mind. Yoga believes that this increases the resistance power of the body and makes your body and mind stronger and thus you can face adverse conditions effectively.
Swadhyaya (Reading of religious literature): This practice is very useful for overcoming ignorance and facing the adversities of life calmly. It helps to fill your mind with peace.
Ishwarpranidhana (Devotion): this teaches you to rely on the divine will and to ascribe the effects of your action to the divine providence. This is a very useful habit to cultivate as you can accept everything as Gods will and can achieve peace of mind. This eliminates the fear and worry.